New Directions in Vocational Rehabilitation: A "Career Development" Perspective on "Closure"

Article excerpt

When leaders in the field of vocational rehabilitation discuss issues that must be addressed in future Amendments of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, they continue to emphasize competitive employment as an end goal of vocational rehabilitation (VR) services for people with severe disabilities. The emphasis on competitive employment represents strong continuity with VR's past. Hershenson (1988, p. 207) illustrated that continuity in a quote he selected from a 1955 publication on the role of the rehabilitation counselor. In the mid-1950's, Hall and Warren (1956) stressed the importance of both competitive employment and career development for people with disabilities: "The counselor is responsible for aiding the disabled individual in securing employment consistent with his capacities and preparation. The counselor also assists the individual in meeting the problem of adjustment and makes follow-up visits as necessary for the vocational adjustment of the individual" (p. 13; as cited in Hershenson, 1988).

The definition of the role of the counselor, circa 1955, is compatible with contemporary themes. The VR counselor must help people with disabilities secure and maintain employment that accords with their aptitudes, interests, and education. But, discussions about employment services for the future reflect a shift in thinking about rehabilitation outcomes from occupational choice to career development. Occupational choice refers to choosing a job at one point in time, whereas career development refers to a life-long process of preparing to choose, choosing, and continuing to choose vocational roles (Szymanski & Hershenson, 1998). The term "career development" and the related service of career counseling are focal points for a number of specific recommendations for changes that are needed in the VR program (Koch & Johnston-Rodriguez, in press; Merz & Harvey, in press; President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, 1990; Roessler & Rumrill, 1995a). The purpose of this article is to: (a) define "career development" in practical and theoretical terms; (b) identify barriers to career development within VR policies and practices; and (c) suggest changes in those policies to strengthen the career orientation of the VR process.

Personal Career Planning: The Hallmark of Quality Rehabilitation Counseling

In the early 1990s, Sandra Parrino, then chair of the National Council on Disability, recommended that VR discontinue the practice of evaluating counselor effectiveness based on the number of successful (Status 26) case closures (Washington Public Affairs Center, 1991). Instead, she suggested that state agencies evaluate counselors in terms of the overall quality of their performance. Quality counselor performance in the VR process is synonymous with efforts that enable people with disabilities to develop careers and career planning skills, rather than placing clients in entry-level positions (Mullins, 1995; Washington Public Affairs Center, 1991).

The emphasis on "career" in vocational resources used by rehabilitation counselors dates, of course, further back than Parrino's comments. In the second edition of the Guide for Occupational Exploration, Harrington and O'Shea (1984) presented a self-directed strategy for using information about one's interests, work values, and preferred activities at home and school in identifying a vocational goal and developing a preparation and placement plan. In their description of this process, Harrington and O'Shea stressed that appropriate vocational choices for an individual presume affirmative answers to such questions as "Would I like this kind of work well enough to do it as a career?." and "What are my chances of getting higher-level jobs in this field?"

Concurring with the recommendation to stress career and deemphasize the use of current placement and closure criteria, members of the National Leadership Summit Meeting in 1991 advanced the concept of "personal careers" as an important consideration in improving VR services (Washington Public Affairs Center, 1991, p. …